Spending time in Leavenworth, a town of 2,400 in the mountains of central Washington state, requires commitment. You either arrive and shake your head at the absurdity of a municipality that looks like an 18th century German village, or your heart melts and you wrap your arms around the alpine architecture and eat the delicious meat. of all of it. It’s The Dark Zone meets The Brothers Grimm, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
I decided to let go of all cynicism and feel the love. To be honest, it was hard to resist the city has been committed to draw the imagination of being in the European Alps. Last year, a study from travel company Next Vacay looked at all of America’s Christmas cities and ranked them based on criteria such as the number of Christmas markets, amount of snow, amenities, and Instagrammable winter scenes. Leavenworth took the crown. The town looks like a small German village surrounded by snow-capped mountains and has a reindeer farm. There really is no competition.
I was here in the fall, but Leavenworth seemed like it was getting ready to go down the drain. Christmas lights were strung up in the typical town and snow fell on the way from Seattle through the Cascade Mountains.
The city boasts 21 miles of festive lights during the winter, as well as the requisite German Christmas markets and Nordic sports. Festive events are held every day in December. The city even has its own Christmas carol. Winter Carnival immediately follows in January.
Before I toured the Biergartens and Nutcracker Museum, there was one very serious question that needed an answer: How did a tiny village become a fairytale land full of chalets? The town may look like it’s been around for 200 years, but according to the vice president of the Leavenworth Historical Museum, it began its German transformation about 60 years ago.
In its early days, Leavenworth was a prosperous place. In the 1860s, it was a fur trading post, then a gold rush boom town, and finally a lumber exporter. By the 1920s, the lumber supply had run out, the railroad had moved, and Leavenworth had become a ghost town. But a pair of enterprising businessmen had a vision, and that vision was … Bavaria. Bob Rogers and Ted Price, the entrepreneurs mentioned above, worked with merchants, city officials and the University of Washington. In six years, the center of the dead city has become what it is today that amazes visitors.
Everything is Bavarian in Leavenworth. Zoning laws are strict. Even chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Hampton Inn have Bavarian lettering and architecture. But the best part of Leavenworth is that most of the stores and restaurants are not chains. Instead, Front Street (or Front Strasse, as the street sign reads in German) is filled with independent shops and restaurants.
It’s also where you’ll find the Nutcracker Museum. If you want to recreate a mountain town and turn it into a modern country destination, it must have a museum with a collection of more than 9,000 nuts, from prehistoric nut rocks to modern pop culture nuts. These are not all wooden block soldiers painted red. There are at least two Hillary Clinton nuts, plus Yoda, Elvis, elephants, squirrels, birds, every Disney character imaginable, football players, a nut brass band and, of course, soldiers in every conceivable shade of clothing. .
As you may have gathered, the word “subtle” doesn’t really exist in Leavenworth, and that’s what makes it fun. The pretzels are big, the bratwurst is plentiful, and the gingerbread cookies are fresh year-round. The cookies were so good you could eat them for breakfast. Well, at least I did, and would do it again despite the judgmental looks from passers-by. Kris Kringle’s Christmas Ornament Store (no thanks) is not for the faint of heart. I have never seen so many decorations representing such a variety of foods, sports, drinks, animals and hobbies. Need an ornament that looks like an almond butter jar? Here it is. How about a line of Bud Light Christmas lights? Step right up.
It should be noted that there is more to Leavenworth than pretzels and peppermint bark. Among the t-shirt shops and gift shops, there is a Cheesemonger shop, a European chocolate shop called Chocolat, and even a speakeasy called Pika Provisions. For such a Lilliputian town, Leavenworth has plenty of dining options. Sulla Vita is a surprisingly good pizza restaurant with a very impressive patio. There’s Mexican Tacos at Pavz, because every fake Bavarian village deserves decent tacos, and a seafood restaurant called Yodelin. Outside the city center, there’s a fine dining restaurant at Wildflour, which specializes in pasta.
But honestly, I was here for kitsch and Christmas. I can find good food anywhere, but joint farms are absolutely unique. I assumed the Leavenworth Steam Farm would be a sad zoo with a few moose and maybe a grumpy goat giving visitors the stink eye. Erica Bowie, the family farm’s general manager, set me straight. The farm has a herd of 27 deer (as well as several cats), which look very strong. He is like a travel encyclopedia of reindeer facts. If you come here, you will be educated about all things gentlemen, whether you like it or not.
“Reindeer eyes change color, from brown to blue,” she explained excitedly. “They are the only mammals on earth that can see in ultraviolet light. They can run 50 miles per hour and swim 6.2 miles per hour. That’s faster than Michael Phelps. Horn is the fastest growing tissue on the planet.” . It grows up to an inch a day.”
After hearing all this, I decided against getting joint sausage at a snack bar, but according to Bowie, joint is a staple in his family’s native Norway. The farm features family-friendly activities and tours and will be the largest geodesic dome on the West Coast. Inside the dome, visitors can enjoy 360-degree views of the northern lights and reindeer herds from around the world.
On my flight from Boston to Washington state, a local told me to take some time to hike around Leavenworth, and after several bratwurst tastings, it seemed like it was time to heed his advice. With my limited time—all that schnitzel he didn’t want to eat himself—I strategically chose Peshastin Pinnacles State Park near Kashmir. The 1½ mile trail I hiked was steep, but the short hike provided some amazing views.
I have to say that watching the sunset and enjoying the beauty of nature really put me in the holiday spirit. But who am I kidding? It was definitely the gingerbread men that did the trick.